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Free agency targets if the Sixers fail to "hunt" a star

By: Jesse Larch, Sports Talk Philly editor 

NBA Free Agency is a strange mistress. The whirlwind of transactions is set to begin at midnight on Sunday (although no contracts can be made official until July 6), and the Sixers figure to make their presence known, especially with the biggest names on the open market with Sixers interim shot-caller Brett Brown stating that the team is "star-hunting" this offseason. 

While the Sixers will surely try to bring in a big fish, it is no guarantee. If they do miss, they will have a lot of money to invest in free agency. The Sixers need to be prepared to miss out on one of the top options and have a plan B ready in the event that they cannot lure a superstar to Philadelphia this summer. 

The question then becomes who would be on the Sixers radar. Below we will look at a number of players who could draw interest from the Sixers. This list will not consider the players that were on the team this past season like J.J. Redick or Amir Johnson simply because fans already know what those players have to offer.


Guards

The Sixers have a lot invested in their backcourt with first round picks spent on Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Furkan Korkmaz. Despite all of the youth at the position the Sixers could benefit from adding a reliable veteran. 

Specifically, the Sixers need a veteran who can play in iso situations. The team proved to be very limited when forced to create their own shots off of the dribble, with the team largely depending on the catch-and-shoot ability of their players. A player who can thrive against one-on-one assignments would help take the Sixers offense to another level. 

The top two options to fill that need are Will Barton formally of the Denver Nuggets and Tyreke Evans who spent last season with the Memphis Grizzlies but grew up playing basketball in Chester, PA. 

Barton and Evans both thrived in sixth man roles last season for their respective teams - with Evans moving into the starting lineup by the middle of the season. The oft-injured former rookie of the year played in 52 games last season for the Grizzlies and averaged 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 30.9 minutes a game. Evans also shot a career-high 39.9 percent from long range last season, making him a legitimate three point threat. 

Barton plays a wide open style that would fit in with the Sixers up tempo offensive philosophy. Barton is never afraid to have the ball and tries to jumpstart the offense with his energy and proficiency as a scorer. Barton scored 15.7 points per game with 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists to go along with his point total. 

A name that could also help the Sixers iso game is the league's reigning teammate of the year Jamal Crawford. Crawford, a three-time sixth man of the year, spent last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and specializes in scoring off of the bench. His stat lines have declined with his age, but his experience and presence would be valuable to the team. The Sixers will have to compete with the Golden State Warriors for Crawford's services, who have been linked to the veteran role player. 

The Sixers built a reputation last season as one of the league's best defensive teams, and there are players available who can help the team in that regard as well. Avery Bradley was rumored to be a trade target of the Sixers during his says with the Boston Celtics and the diminutive shooting guard could appear on the team's radar once again now that he is a free agent. Bradley, a respectable shooter, is known for his a stingy defense. Adding Bradley could give the team a true guard to cover point guards and free up Ben Simmons to be positioned where the team could best use his size and rebounding ability. 

Like Bradley, Lance Stephenson is another defensive-minded guard. Stephenson is an inconsistent offensive player and has failed to stick anywhere in the league besides Indiana. The Sixers would not make an offer to Stephenson if they wanted scoring, however. Stephenson is a pest. He gets under the opponent's skin, and he willingly and effectively defends some of the best players in the game. The team's defense was weak at best at the two guard last season between J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli. Stephenson would not offer the shooting ability of those two, but may make it for it with the points that eh can take off of the board. 

If the Sixers want to add shooters out of the Redick or Belinelli mold they can look to a number of options for that role as well. 

Seth Curry - not to be confused with his brother - missed all of the 2017-18 season but in the two season prior the forgotten Curry has shown that he possesses the same genes as his brother and sharpshooting father Dell. Curry has shot 43.2 percent between the 2015-2016 season and the 2016-2017 season. The Sixers could get one of the games best three-point shooters for a relatively cheap deal considering the time he missed he last season. The risk would be if he Curry can return to his previous shooting form. 

Another excellent shooter is Espicopal Academy graduate Wayne Ellington. Ellington shot 39.2 percent beyond the arc last season for the Miami Heat and was invited to participate in the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles this past season. In addition to his 39.2 percent success rate last season he has shot 38.1 percent for his career from three. Not only would he give the team a reliable scorer off of the bench, but the team would also gain the leadership and guidance of a local player - just like they did when the team signed Ellington's high school teammate Gerald Henderson two years ago.  


Wings

The Sixers are expected to be a suitor for Lebron James. Part of the reasoning is that they want to add the best player in the NBA to the roster, but it also means that the team is comfortable moving Robert Covington to a bench role. There are a number of options on the wing that could either supplement Covington or take his spot as the team's starter at the three. 

Rudy Gay is the biggest name on the small forward market that is not LeBron James or Paul George. Gay played 87 games over the last two seasons due to various injuries, but a healthy Gay averaged 18 or more points in a season nine times in his 12-year career. He has average shooting numbers, but has proven that he can score at effective level in the NBA. Gay could be a good consolation prize for the Sixers if they miss out on James or another big time free agent. 

The Sixers would be wise to target two players from the league's top (regular season) team a season ago. The Houston Rockets are sending both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute into the open market, and both could make sense for the Sixers. 

The two players fit a similar archetype. They are both defensive specialists and they are both average to above average shooters. The two are also well-traveled veterans. Ariza will be more expensive than Mbah a Moute - who played for the Sixers in 2014  - but Ariza is not going to break the bank after the rumors of Ariza seeking a significant pay day have been shot down. Both of these players have been valued members of the teams they have been on. The difference is that Ariza often finds minutes as a starter while Mbah a Moute is usually towards the end of a rotation. The interesting conneciton between Mbah a Moute is that he already has a strong relationship with Joel Embiid. It was Mbah a Moute - a fellow Cameroon native - who discovered Embiid during a camp that the former Sixer runs. Without Mbah a Moute, Embiid may never have been introduced to basketball. 

A wing player who the city of Philadelphia would embrace is Michael Beasley. Beasley is a tough and gritty player who refuses to back down from anyone. The former second-overall pick struggled early in his career but has found his footing as he enters his age-30 season. Last season with the New York Knicks Beasley shot 50.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from 3. Over the last three seasons Beasley has shot 51.6 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from beyond. He has developed into a consistent and reliable scorer who can play multiple positions. Beasley could present a great value to the Sixers. 


Post Players

Another hole that the Sixers should be looking to fill on the free agency market is the role of a consistent bench big. They have Richaun Holmes who flashes big time potential but lacks the consistency to be a difference maker at this stage. Jonah Bolden is also an interesting name if the Sixers elect to buy out his contract from Maccabi Tel Aviv but he would likely need time to adjust to the NBA since he has never set foot on an NBA court aside from Summer League. 

There are a number of veterans who could step in and give the Sixers valuable minutes inside the paint. 

Let's just get this one out of the way. Nerlens Noel is a fan favorite in Philadelphia but after betting on himself when he turned down a lucrative contract from the Dallas Mavericks he struggled and took a major hit to his value. Still an effective rim protector Noel could come in and give the Sixers the defense that was absent from their bench last season assuming that his price tag is low given his injury history and recent production. It does not hurt that he already knows the personnel, the system, and is best friends with Joel Embiid. 

If the Sixers decide to focus on defense and do not want a Noel reunion they can look to Ed Davis. Davis - who was drafted by Bryan Colangelo - is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He does not worry many teams offensively but defensively he proves to be a nightmare for opponents. Davis keeps his area clean and secures possessions for his team with ease averaging 7.4 rebounds over 18.6 minutes a night last season. That equates to 14.1 rebounds per 36 minutes. For a comparison - Joel Embiid averaged 13 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Davis would come cheap and give the Sixers an edge they lacked last season when Embiid left the floor. 

Alex Len is anther interesting name for the Sixers to look at after the Phenix Suns let him enter unrestricted free agency following the drafting of Deandre Ayton. Len shot a career-high 56.6 percent from the field last season and averaged 7.5 rebounds per game in 20.2 minutes a night. Len's per-36 numbers show a player who would average 1.9 blocks and a double-double if he got starter minutes - that is essentially a Marcin Gortat-level player. A player of that level would be a very effective and useful backup. 

The final name on this list may be the most polarizing, but with Dwight Howard on the open market the Sixers may be wise to kick the tires on the veteran big man. Howard - an eight time All-Star - has fallen from grace after being a darling of the league, but he remains an effective center in the NBA averaging 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds last season in Charlotte. Howard has fetched big money throughout his career but if the market is thin for him as he looks for his fourth team in four seasons the price could drop and the Sixers could find a great bargain to backup Joel Embiid. Howard has made three NBA All-Defense first teams and won three Defensive Players of the Year in his career. Having a player with that resume as a backup would be the ultimate luxury. 

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